Prayer Sets Us Free

I think by now many of us are coming down with cabin fever. You can only binge-watch so many series on Netflix and Disney+. You can only play video games and read books for so long. Even getting out and taking a walk is starting to feel a bit repetitive. I feel anything but free.

And yet, Pope Francis teaches us that freedom is exactly what the Holy Spirit provides us. In a homily on April 20, Pope Francis said: “The definition of the Holy Spirit that Jesus gives here is interesting … unconstrained. A person who gets carried from both sides by the Holy Spirit: this is the freedom of the Spirit. And a person who does this is docile, and here we talk about docility to the Holy Spirit.”

I like this idea of being docile. We are flexible and open to new ideas. When we listen to the Holy Spirit through prayer, we need to be open to how he guides us. Just choosing prayer over TV, video games, and other media shows the beginnings of openness. You are choosing to block out distractions to try to listen to the Holy Spirit. That’s a great start.

I often complain that one of the hardest things about sheltering in place is the constant noise. Someone is always talking. Of, if you have kids, someone is always shouting or running around. The constant movement and volume is tiring. That is why it’s important to deliberately carve time for prayer. Otherwise, the wisdom of the Holy Spirit gets drowned out by the daily noise in our lives. And that’s how we feel trapped. We can no longer feel the Holy Spirit’s gentle nudge to break us out of our suffocating routines.

If you’re looking for something new, try praying the Rosary. If you already pray the Rosary, try adding more to it like meditations or scriptural passages. Think about the Third Glorious Mystery and how the Holy Spirit came down and inspired the Apostles. Think of how couped up they must have felt hiding after Jesus’ death and resurrection out of fear of the Jews. They were the definition of confinement. And what was it that set them free? The Holy Spirit! What released them from their bondage of fear? The Holy Spirit! And what guided them across the known world teaching in Jesus’ name? The Holy Spirit! In the words of Pope Francis, “With this freedom of the Holy Spirit, you will never know where you will end up.”

https://www.rosarymeds.com/intentions/the-glorious-mysteries/third-glorious-mystery/

Rosary Prayer as a Process

When I look around my house, I see all sorts of bins filled to the top with toys and games. They belong to my boys and they’ve accumulated them over years of Christmases and birthdays. And besides the initial week or two of excitement, many of them go untouched for months. My thought is that because most of their toys are gifts, they don’t have any real emotional investment in them. But God help me if I throw one of their drawings or worksheets into the recycle bin. I’ve had to empty entire trash bins looking for my son’s random stick figure drawing or worksheet.

My little parenthood story outlines a greater insight into human behavior. We tend to value things more as we invest more in them. That could be an investment of time, money, memories, emotional energy, etc. What about our faith? Does the value of our faith increase the more time we spend in prayer? I certainly believe it does. And I’m sure those of you who pray the Rosary daily will attest to that as well. God designed faith as a process that we work on our entire lives.

Why does God choose to make our faith a multi-step process and not something more instantaneous? Why did Jesus heal certain people one at a time and not the entire world in one fell swoop? Or why do miracles come to a few and not to everyone who requests them? Like anything important, there’s value in the process. Things that are just given to us with no effort on our part aren’t as valuable as the things we work hard for.

When we make an effort to develop our faith, it becomes more valuable. Jesus didn’t come into this world to just give away faith. He knew that people wouldn’t value it if He did. Instead, He showed the benefits that came from having a deeper faith almost as a way of encouraging people to work harder at it. Remember, God gave us free will to choose whether to follow Him or not. But that’s not a binary decision. We also have the freedom to choose how much effort we want to put into our relationship with God. Hopefully, through Jesus’ teachings and example, we know that it’s important to invest in our faith development because it’s worth it.

In his article, No Soul is Too Far Gone, Francis Chan writes this about the power of perseverant prayer when he talked about praying for 30 years for the conversion of his childhood friend. Not only did the target of the prayers benefit when he was eventually baptized, but so did the person doing the praying as his faith must have grown through 30 years of prayers and intentions.

There is tremendous power in perseverant prayer. God is not like us; he is not bothered by his children asking for the same thing over and over. He is pleased by the faith demonstrated when we pray and pray for someone to be saved.

When we understand the consequences of rejecting Christ, and we are filled with love for another human being, persistent prayer should be the natural response. To this day, I still have questions about how the decreed will of God meshes with the effectiveness of my persistent prayers. For now, I’m more than content to obey and pray. Though I’m still uncertain how it works, I have seen it work. Meditate with me on Luke 18, trust the words of Christ, and then pray with sincerity and expectation.

Looking at the Rosary, I think about the Fourth Joyful Mystery — The Presentation in the Temple. I think of Saint Simeon, a pious man whom the Holy Spirit promised would see the Messiah before his death. And while it doesn’t say how long he waited, I always picture it being many years. In that time he must have prayed regularly building up his faith in God’s promise. How much stronger was Saint Simeon from a lifetime of devout prayer than if God had immediately fulfilled His promise?

In the eyes of God, even the oldest and wisest are like infants. We must seem like babies whenever God hears us complain about why He’s not answering our prayers. What we do not see or understand is that He does hear us and answers our prayers. But it’s according to His plan, not ours. It’s by His timeline, not ours. We must understand that we often need time to grow and mature in our faith. And when we put in that time and effort, we see that God answers our prayers in a manner far better than if we would have received it immediately.

Saint Dominic: Model of Humility

I recently completed reading Saint Dominic and the Rosary by Catherine Beebe.  Saint Dominic’s life was a saintly one in every sense of the word.  He practiced the saintly virtues of humility and patience throughout his life.  We should also practice these virtues during Advent as we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth and reflect on the life of the greatest saint, our Mother Mary, who is the paradigm of patience and humility.

Catherine Beebe’s book walks through Saint Dominic’s life from his early childhood through his holy death.  Keep in mind that this isn’t an academic or rigorously historical book.  It contains conversations and events that I’m sure came from second and third hand sources or were created in an attempt to better explain aspects of Saint Dominic’s personality.  But that in no way takes away from the motivational and inspiring power of this book.  Personally, I want to learn about Saint Dominic’s virtues, not a dry day-by-day historical account of his life.

According to the book, Saint Dominic strived for sainthood his entire life.  He always oriented himself towards bringing people closer to God.  When he was a young priest traveling through Spain, he was never too tired or busy to preach to the Albigensian heretics and try to convert them.  He lived humbly, never indulging in earthly delights.  In fact, he never ate more food than what he needed to stay healthy.  Even the order he founded put their faith in God to provide for them as they relied entirely on people’s donations of food, clothing, and other provisions.

It is this total giving of self that is the main theme throughout
Catherine Beebe’s book.  And I think this is also why our Mother Mary choose Saint Dominic to bring Her Rosary into the world.  She too, was a total servant of God; putting aside Her wants and expectations to completely accept God’s plan for Her.   That is what God wants out of a saint — a complete and willing submission to His Will.  When I say “submission” I’m not talking about it in that dominating sense of the word.  I mean that we willingly put our lives into God’s hands with faith that He will lead us to true happiness.

You have to be humble to be a servant to God.  Humility is the virtue which defeats pride.  And pride is the sin of centering your entire life around your wants and desires.  You can’t put yourself into God’s hands while centering your life around what you want at the same time.  You have to choose.  Likewise, saintly behavior requires patience.  It’s a lifelong journey of trusting in God when times are either good or bad.  You can’t say you’re devoted to God and then bail on Him at the first sign of hardship.  Is it easy?  Of course not.  But where do you think the phrases patience is a virtue and patience of a saint come from?  Being a saint isn’t easy but it’s the life God calls all of us to live.

The Rosary Connection

Look at Mary in the First Joyful Mystery.  She showed great humility placing Her life in God’s hands in the Annunciation.  Now move on to the Fifth Joyful Mystery.  Mary and Joseph searched for Jesus for several days “in sorrow.”  Imagine the patience Mary had to show and not give up hope of finding her lost son.  We can learn from Mary that even when times are difficult, we need to show patience for God to show us the way.  It is in that quiet patience that God will show us the way out of hardship.

PSA: archive.org

Lastly, I want to point our a really useful Rosary resource — www.archive.org.  I found that book about Saint Dominic on archive.org and, like a library, I was able to check it out as an ebook.  If you do a search for “rosary” on the site, you will find all sorts of books, newsletters, pamphlets, etc.  Many of those are out of print and you cannot find anywhere else (which is the whole point of why we have archive.org).  If you’re looking for some new Rosary material, give archive.org a look (and support it with a donation if you find anything of value).

Why You Need Contemplative Prayer Right Now

With only two weeks left before Christmas, many of us are feeling that last minute pressure to finish shopping (or start it) and finalize plans.  Did you get the right presents?  Did you forget to send a Christman card to someone important?  Will the package you ordered be delivered on time?  There are so many questions and concerns spinning around in our heads right now.  And that is why it’s the perfect time to stop and engage in some contemplative prayer.

In my recent presentation, I emphasized how the Rosary is a meditative and contemplative prayer.  And this makes sense given its origin — our Mother Mary.  In the Gospel, Mary is a woman of few words.  Instead, she is always listening and observing what Jesus is saying and doing.  In so many instances, the Gospel talks about how she keeps things in her heart.  She is humble and reserved taking the role as God’s servant.  She is the paradigm of contemplative behavior.  And likewise, her gift to us, the Rosary, is modeled after her contemplative nature.

Here are some examples of how you can use contemplative prayer to great effect.  This Advent, in addition to a morning Rosary prayer, I’ve taken up reading from a daily prayer and reflection book.  By front-loading my day with prayer and scripture, I have plenty to think about and meditate on when I find some quiet downtime throughout my day.  Jonathan B. Coe, in his article on Catholic Exchange, calls the combination of scripture and Rosary prayer a “contemplative canvas that renews the mind and facilitates an open-handed generosity in life.”  If your day is a blank canvas, how are you painting it?  And you filling it with holy thoughts and actions fueled by the Gospel and Rosary?

One of the Advent reflections I read stressed the importance of silence and clearing your mind of all the holiday distractions.  Remember, Jesus’ birth wasn’t a grand event in the physical sense.  It was a quiet one that took place in a stable or cave in some small, out of the way village.  And even today, the commercial grandeur of Christmas drowns out the whisper-like presence of Jesus’ birthday.  It is only in the stillness of meditative prayer that we block out the noisy world to truly appreciate the heart of Christmas.

Lastly, I recently finished reading a biography on Saint Dominic, through whom Mary gave the world the Rosary.  He traveled throughout Europe in his life.  And wherever he went, when he had free time, he visited a church or cathedral and prayed.  That routine of filling part of the day in contemplative prayer can be said of any number of saints.  God desires all of us to saintlike behavior as that is the quickest means to internal happiness in His kingdom.  And so, maybe we should take a cue from the saints and also fill some of our lives with meditative prayer.  For example, after I drop off my son at school, I stop by the church to sit quietly and pray.  Maybe you can find time to attend Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.  Try attending a weekday Mass or just sit quietly in a Church for a few minutes.  Or maybe, just lay still in bed when you wake up and spend a few minutes in prayer before starting your day.

Think about Mary’s contemplative behavior in the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary.  When the shepherds came to Jesus talking about angels announcing His birth, Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. (Luke 2:19).  Upon finding Jesus in the temple and hearing Him say that he needed to be in His Father’s house, she treasured all these things in her heart (Luke 2:51).  Are you talking regularly with God through prayer and treasuring His response in your heart?

Don’t Lose Your Moral Bearings in the Darkness

Imagine you’re a pilot flying alone on a completely dark night with no instrumentation.  Envision how hard it would be to know your altitude, your level, and whether or not you’re about to crash into something.  In total darkness, with no visibility and landmarks for reference, there is a good chance the airplane will crash and burn.

Keep that airplane analogy in mind as you read this article about the Glamor of Evil by Dr. Gregory Popcak.  We all know about how we should avoid committing sin. That’s Catholicism 101; easy stuff. But you can also be seduced by sin without actively participating in it.  He writes:

Evil is glamorous, not only in the sense that it can be hard to resist being drawn into it, but also in the sense that it can be hard to look away from it. If you aren’t careful, it’s tremendously easy to stare at it, and stare at it, and stare at it, until you can’t see anything else. Until everything good, and godly, and righteous, and beautiful has been drained from view, and all that is left is outrage, and anger, and indignation, and disgust.

Like the pilot alone in the dark, when we fixate on all the evil, darkness, and problems in this world we lose our moral bearings.  We can become disoriented in the darkness and start to lose hope, joy, and our faith.  We can no longer see the differences between good and evil because we’ve lost our spirital point of reference.  Our actions no longer seem to matter because we don’t see any goal or point to them.  Does it really matter what I do if everything is falling apart around me?

Being lost and aimless doesn’t usually end well.

Dr. Popcak tells us that we can’t let negative thinking completely envelop us.  Our faith and relationship with Jesus Christ should act like a shining beacon, even in our darkest hours.  The beauty and goodness of our faith can provide all the guidance we need to find strength, peace, and maybe even happiness, even when our world looks nonredeemable.

When Good Things Turn Us Bad

I’m going to go one step further. It’s not just evil that can completely block us from whatever is good and godly. Neutral activities can also do the same. Consider social media and the 24/7 cable news cycle. On their own, there’s nothing sinful about them.  They allow us to stay updated on recent events and connect with each other. But for many of us, these seemingly harmless pastimes can consume 100% of our attention leaving room for nothing else. And when your world is completely consumed by Twitter, Facebook, Fox News, and MSNBC, you can stop seeing the genuine good in the world. You will either see a carefully curated goodness that isn’t real or you will just see everything as bad and hopeless and fall into despair.

As we enter the season of Advent and Christmas, it’s important to not allow ouselves to fixate on what is ultimately unimportant. I know we want to buy presents, decorate our homes, and participate in all the other traditions associated with Christmas. But we can’t let the commercial side of Christmas blind us to the true meaning behind it. Because when you obsess over what to buy and what you want to receive, you leave yourself open to the sins of greed, envy, and even wrath. Want an example?  Look no further than the annual chaos around Black Friday and how people lose their moral bearings fighting over TVs and toasters.

The Rosary Connection

Look at the Fourth Luminous Mystery, The Transfiguration.  I’m talking about darkness and the light in this article.  Well, in this mystery you see Jesus’ clothes literally become dazzling white (Mark 9:3).  And that, of course, got the apostles’ attention.  When you meditate on this Rosary mystery, ask yourself, is Jesus a dazzling beacon of love, hope, and goodness in your life?  Does He shine brighter through the darkness keeping you morally oriented toward His teachings?  If not, maybe you need to turn around or take off your blindfold.  Jesus is always present in our lives.  If you don’t see that “light” in the darkness, ask Mary for guidance when you pray the Fourth Glorious Mystery, Her Assumption.  She wants nothing more than to guide you through the darkness to Her son.

Also, when you pray the Third Joyful Mystery, think of the wise men traveling through the desert to pay homage to Jesus.  They would have been wondering around aimlessly and hopelessly if it weren’t for a star to guide them.  Again, you have a point of light, a referrence point, which guided the three wise men to Jesus. Are you following the signs in your life which lead you to Jesus?

Why Men Especially Need Mary

As we approach the end of the year, I took a look at all the articles I saved and filed under “write about the Rosary connection to this someday.” Well, someday is now. It’s time to clean house. Since I’m on a Marion kick lately with the release of my latest video on the benefits of effective Rosary Prayer, let’s talk specifically about how men’s spiritually is completed through Mary.

In his article, Mastering Manhood Through Mary, Matthew D. Pride talks about how God created male and female to complement and complete each other. He explains how man and woman are made in God’s image, but so is their union. In other words, while man and woman are a reflection of God individually, their union creates another unique image of God.  Therefore, Mary is the spiritual complement to men.  He writes:

Mary is the Immaculate Conception, the New Eve, perfectly complementary to every human male. As the New Eve, Mary is our helper, perfectly compatible with every human male and yearning to help us master manhood to become who God called us to be in our families, in our marriages, and in society.

Spiritually, women form this unique reflection of God through their union with Jesus Christ. But what about men? Yes, of course, men can also have a deep spiritual bond with Jesus. But Mary offers us what I’ll call a better fit for men to come to Jesus. Since men and women are hardwired to complement each other, it makes sense that God would provide both sexes a spiritual complement to come to Him.

Not an Old Lady’s Prayer

After my latest presentation on the Rosary, many people commented on how nice it was to see men embrace and share their love of Mary and the Rosary.  These comments, while said with the best intentions, saddened me a little.  Many still consider the Rosary a women’s prayer, or to put it in a less politically correct term — an old lady’s prayer.  But this characterization of the Rosary completely misses the point and ignores centuries of history.

The Rosary is a weapon, a weapon of war both physically and spiritually.  Soldiers prayed it before the Battle of Lepanto and several other battles.  It gave Saint Dominic strength to combat the Albigensian heresy.  More recently, it gave Saint John Paul II the strength to fight the evils of Communism.  Countless saints did heroic acts with the help of the Rosary.  We should pray it daily before doing battle against sin, temptation, and our own weaknesses.  Does that sound like an old lady’s prayer to you?  If men are called to know God through Mary then men need to take up the Rosary.

The Rosary Connection

When you pray the First Joyful Mystery of the Rosary, The Annunciation, remember that God created Mary for a very specific and special purpose.  She was immaculately conceived so she could be a clear, unblemished window to Jesus.  God’s plan for Mary was more than just give birth to Jesus and then get out of the way.  If that was the case, Jesus could have just emerged mysteriously out of the wilderness as an adult as there would be no need for Mary.  The fact that Mary was part of God’s plan tells us something.  We should utilize the gift God gave us through Mary who willingly said she would be the servant of the Lord at the Annunciation (Luke 1:38).  God wants all men to know Him through our Mother Mary.

Conquering Envy Through the Rosary

Let’s talk about sin, specifically, the seven deadly sins (also known as cardinal or capital sins).  Theologians in the early Church devised a list of sins that form the foundation for other sins.  Think of it like the taxonomy, or classification, of sinful behavior.  By reducing sin to a small list, teaching about sin and virtue became easier in the early Church because priests could teach people simple “do this, avoid that” style rules.  The seven deadly sins as we know them today were formalized by Pope Gregory I in 590 AD and later expounded by Saint Thomas Aquinas in Summa Theologica.  For those of you who never saw the movie Se7en, the seven deadly sins are:
  • gluttony
  • lust
  • greed
  • pride
  • sloth
  • wrath
  • envy
This article is going to focus on envy.  In the age of social media and instant communication with others, it’s so easy to suffer from envy.  We see people’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram posts about their fantastic vacations, cute families, crazy parties, and glamorous lives and it’s difficult to not feel envious.  We fixate on the nice car our neighbor bought or the slightly larger TV that is in his living room.  Unless you live in a completely isolated environment, it’s difficult not to see the blessings others have around you and not feel just a bit envious.

The Scriptural Connection

Of course, envy isn’t anything new.  In fact, envy plays a prominent role in the first book of the Bible when Cain killed his brother Abel.  Cain envied his brother because God favored Abel’s offering over his.  What I find interesting is God’s response to Cain’s anger: “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance (mood) fallen? 7 “If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” The Bible doesn’t say how much effort Cain put into his offering to God.  Maybe he held something back and didn’t put forth his best crops for God but kept them to himself.  Maybe Cain was lazy which lead to a small harvest.  God basically challenges Cain to do better and work harder.  But instead of accepting the challenge, Cain fixated on his brother’s good fortune to the point of murdering him. That is why envy, when not addressed, is such a deadly sin.  It can grow and spread like cancer.  It then cuts us off from others because all we see in others are our own desires.  We don’t see others as our fellow brothers and sisters but more like a store’s windows displaying what we want but cannot have.  It reduces people to the summation of their possessions.  Many of the deadly sins are interconnected since we can see envy being related with pride (everything centered around what I want), greed (always wanting more), and wrath (hatred because you have what I want).

The Rosary Connection

Father Ed Broom wrote an article on Catholic Exchange about what we can do to combat envy.  It’s worth a read.  But of course, the Rosary also teaches us about envy and how to fight it.  Let’s look at the Second Luminous Mystery — the Miracle at the Wedding at Cana.  What does that have to do with envy?  Let’s consider God’s miracles and blessings.  When others receive them, are you happy for them or do you envy them?  For me, one person’s unexpected blessings can bring about feelings of envy and resentment.  I ask why other people have all the good fortune.  Or, why has God saddled me with more hardship than someone else? Of course, feeling envious is the wrong way to look at God’s blessings and miracles.  To start, someone receiving a miracle or blessing doesn’t take any blessings away from you.  God’s grace is not a zero-sum game where someone receiving grace deprives someone else of his.  God has infinite power and hence, can dole out infinite grace.  When others encounter miracles, Father Broom says we should thank God for all the blessings and miracles He performs in our lives.  Yes, we may not have the cushy job, a huge bank account, a nice car, or a great phone.  But we are alive and able to praise God by living the day as virtuously as possible.  God gives us the miracle of a new day of infinite possibility.  Don’t squander it by being envious of others. Let’s also look at the Second Joyful Mystery, the Visitation.  Each Rosary mystery has an associated “fruit.”  You can think of fruits like the lesson taught in each mystery.  For the Visitation, the fruit is “Love thy Neighbor.”  Of course, loving your neighbor is the opposite of envying or being jealous of your neighbor.  Father Broom states that praying for those whom you envy will help fight that envy.  It does this by taking that sinful fixation and transforming it to a healthy one.  Your focus is on asking God to help you instead of being jealous of others.  Fighting envy difficult, but so was traveling to Elizabeth’s home for Mary.  She did it out of her love for her cousin.  We too must take up that difficult challenge of fighting envy with love, prayer, and kindness (which is one of the seven heavenly virtues that combats envy).

Humane Vitae and the Value of Self-Discipline

If you’ve done any type of sports or exercise, you probably know the term no pain, no gain.  All athletes must push themselves hard to obtain victory.  Muscles only grow when they are challenged.  Your heart needs a little bit of stress from cardiovascular activity to function its best.  It’s just the way our bodies are designed to function — you need to periodically exert yourself to stay healthy.

Much like how we have to exercise our muscles, we also have to exercise our souls.  Here’s another slogan you’ve probably heard — use it or lose it.  But what does it mean to exercise and use your soul?  Using your soul means feeding yourself with grace by practicing virtue.  Is that easy?  No, of course not.  But much like how our bodies are designed to function best by stressing it a bit with exercise, our souls are at their best when we challenge ourselves by practicing virtues and avoiding temptations.  Sounds hard right?  The good news is that we’re not alone in this challenge.

No pain, no gain!

The Catholic Church is a great spiritual fitness instructor.  She has challenged people to work harder at developing their spiritual muscles.  We may often want to quit when life gets challenging and temptations mount.  But the Church is like that coach telling you, “you can do this!”  Or, “just one more set!”  The Church has never allowed people to cheat and take an easy way out of a difficult situation if doing so ultimately harms their spiritual state.  There’s no, “you’ve gone to enough Masses” or “sure, commit a little sin; you’ve earned it.”  The Church sets a high bar for our spiritual health understanding that it will be challenging.  But it doesn’t veer away from teaching what is right just because many people find that path difficult and fail to live up to God’s expectations.  The Church knows that it’s within everyone’s ability to lead a spiritually healthy lifestyle.  You just have to make the effort.

Humanae Vitae

This Church’s mindset of uncompromising spiritual living is seen in the 1968 encyclical, Humanae Vitae, which we celebrated its 50th anniversary this past July.  Many people, when they hear about Humanae Vitae, they immediately think, “Oh, that’s that document that is against artificial contraception.”  But that’s like saying football is that sport where everyone just lines up and falls down.  Sure, the Church’s position against artificial contraception is a core teaching of that document.  But there’s so much more to it.

Humanae Vitae puts a challenge before all of us.  It asks us to put the needs of our soul first in our lives even when recent inventions and social conventions make it seem like we don’t have to.  Just because the birth control pill exists, abortion is legal in many countries, and pornography is readily available doesn’t make them good or healthy.  Humanae Vitae wants us to realize that a life of immediate gratification is not necessarily happier because we don’t grow spiritually in accordance with God’s design.  God’s design requires us to challenge ourselves to stay spiritually healthy.  Consider this excerpt from Humanae Vitae about self-discipline and how it leads to “spiritual blessings.”

Self-discipline of this kind is a shining witness to the chastity of husband and wife and, far from being a hindrance to their love of one another, transforms it by giving it a more truly human character. And if this self-discipline does demand that they persevere in their purpose and efforts, it has at the same time the salutary effect of enabling husband and wife to develop to their personalities and to be enriched with spiritual blessings.

From Humanae Vitae, Section 21

The Rosary Connection

The whole Rosary is an exercise in practicing virtue and growing spiritually by challenging yourself.  It’s not an easy prayer.  It’s relatively long and repetitive.  It’s tiring to say it every day, especially when it’s done in a meditative manner.  But, the Rosary is a great prayer to tell God that you want to spend time with Him despite your access to various forms of entertainment.  We tell Mary that we’ll pray Her Rosary because we believe that it’s one of the best ways to build grace.

There are so many Rosary mysteries that center around the theme of self-discipline.  The one I’ll choose to mention is the Second Joyful Mystery, The Visitation.  You really have to give Mary credit for traveling and helping Her cousin Elizabeth when She was pregnant.  No one would have faulted Mary for cloistering Herself during Her pregnancy given Her circumstances.  But She knew that was not what God was calling Her to do.  And that is the core of many Church teachings — true happiness comes when we do God’s Will even when it is difficult or inconvenient.  That is how we grow and stay spiritually fit.

Mary visiting Her cousin Elizabeth

Mary had a choice — does She try to bend God’s Will around Her desires or challenge Herself to follow the path as God designed?  She’s our Heavenly Queen for a reason — She uncompromisingly chose to obey God’s Will in Her life.  How about you?  Are you growing spiritually by challenging yourself to follow God’s plan or are you feeding yourself spiritual junk food through sin and vice?

Coping with the Church Scandal One Rosary Bead at a Time

Have you read the book or seen the movie, The Martian?  It’s a story that takes place in the future where a man is stranded on Mars after his crew leaves believing he is dead.  In this story, the stranded scientist, Mark Watney, overcomes all sorts of challenges to stay alive.  It’s one of those stories where everything that can go wrong does go wrong  — storms, failed equipment, communication issues, etc.  But he just works each problem as it came along to survive just one more day.

I think the Church is in a similar situation — everything that seems like it can go wrong is going wrong regarding the abuse scandal and accusations of coverups going up to the pope himself.  The Church is in uncharted territory right now.  We have a retired pope who may have known something about the Cardinals’ abuses who is silent on the matter.  We have a sitting pope who is remaining silent.  We have all sorts of insider leaks pointing to spiritual rot at high levels.  It’s enough to make the strongest of us doubt that the Church will come out of this in a better state.

As individuals, we can’t do much regarding the Church scandals inside the Vatican.  But like Mark Watney facing countless setbacks trying to survive on Mars, we will also face setbacks in the coming months as more news comes out.  The key is not to get overwhelmed and abandon those who need our prayers the most.  We can’t make this a “Vatican-only” issue.  It’s a problem that all the faithful need to do our part.  We just need to take each day in turn and live the best Christian example we can.

Charlie Johnston puts it well in his blog, A Sign of Hope, when he talked about the need to deal with reality before us, not how we want or expect it to be:

You are going to fail at some things, you are going to be wrong about some things, some of your cherished certainties are going to fall. Your faith is dependent on none of these things and your duty is not suspended because of your errors. If your faith is dependent on your certainty that you have it all figured out, it is just a subtle form of pride – and you know what pride goeth before. Follow the example of King David who, after he sinned grievously of his own fault, got up again at the behest of the prophet and lived his duty, even so. You will fail, you will err, you will sin of your own fault. God knows all of this. He waits to see whether, after each failure, you will get up and start again, humbly living your duty with steadfast resolve even though your fault is ever before you – thus trusting to Him, and not to your own virtue.

Charlie’s words remind me of the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary, Jesus Carries His Cross.  Jesus fell multiple times under the cross.  Each time He resolved to get back up again and do God’s Will.  He fell under the weight of sin too, our sins.  But Jesus found the strength to not get discouraged about the seemingly hopeless situation He was in and did not give up.  His will to follow through with God’s plan was greater than the pain He felt.  Jesus got back up and completed God’s work one painful step at a time.

And so we too, are called to keep going and live our Catholic faith.  It will be difficult at times when we hear about what is happening inside the Vatican.  But, like I said in my previous article, our faith isn’t dependent on the virtue of men.  It lies on the power and virtue of God Himself.  Pray the Rosary and imagine each bead being one slow (sometimes painful) step out of the darkness and into God’s grace.

The Archbishop of San Francisco wrote a letter about the Church scandal.  In it, he outlines a 3-step plan to keep us moving forward and repair the damage caused by the Church hierarchy.  He asks for:

  1. Praying the rosary daily – and for families, to pray the rosary as a family at least once a week;
  2. Practicing Friday penance by abstaining from eating meat and one other additional act of fasting (e.g., another form of food or drink, or skipping a meal);
  3. Spending one hour of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament at least once a week

Coping with Controversy with the Rosary

These are unsettling times for the Catholic Church in the wake of abuses and cover-ups at the highest levels of the Church.  It’s hard to learn about such corruption by people who are supposed to be spiritual leaders in a Church that espouses such high moral values.  It can also shake your faith in an institution that is supposed to be guided by the Holy Spirit.

The cardinals and priests are spiritual leaders, but they are also human.  They carry the same weaknesses as you and I.  Those weaknesses include lust for power and the tendency to sin.  Unfortunately, people move up through the ranks in the Church the same way they do in business or politics.  They know what to do and what to say to move up the “corporate” ladder.  It’s a ladder that is ascended via politics, not neccessarily holiness and virtue.  While we hope that those who lead the Church focus on practicing a high level of virtuous behavior, increased power and authority often has the opposite effect.  Fortunately, our Catholic faith is made up of more than the collective virtue of those who lead it.

I’m not going to tell you to ignore what’s going on at the higher levels of the Church.  Ignoring the issues is what got us into this mess in the first place.  We, as a community of believers, must confront and address these issues.  But at the same time, we must remember that the cardinals, bishops, and even the pope, aren’t the center of the Church.  The Church is not solely a human institution.  It’s a divine institution with the Holy Trinity at its core.

When we pray, we don’t pray to the pope, cardinals, bishops, and priests.    We pray to God!  It’s an infallible and all-loving God that is the center of our faith.  The clergy are servants of God to guide us.  Our perfect God works through His imperfect vessels.  And no amount of human corruption can weaken God.  No amount of corruption can weaken His love for us and our desire to live in His grace.

Humans sin and we have to be accountable for our actions.  What I will call the political side of the Church will go through hard times in the near future.  But if you keep the right perspective, you will understand that the Church is far more than the sum total of virtue and sins of the clergy.  She hasn’t survived and flourished over the centuries because of clerical virtue.  She’s flourished because it’s God’s Church which can’t be destroyed by the inherent weakness of Her followers.

I think about the current difficulties the Church faces when I pray the Third Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary — Jesus Crowned with Thorns.  I picture Jesus, battered and ridiculed.  I then think about our Church and how battered She is right now; ridiculed by the behavior of those who are supposed to honor Her.  Like the Romans paying fake homage to Jesus with a crown of thorns, we have clergy mocking Jesus by using His Church as a means to acquire riches and power and succumb to sinful weaknesses.

Christ Crowned with Thorns (Marten van Heemskerck)

But from the weakness, Jesus was ultimately triumphant.  There is an element of hope throughout the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary.  We know that Jesus’ Passion ends in joy and triumph in His Resurrection.  And we should know that the Church will ultimately be triumphant because that is what scripture and our faith tell us.  As we confront these dark times ahead, remember that the true center of the Church is Jesus Christ.  Our faith is built on Him, not on the imperfect, fallible humans who run it.